USA’s Ryan Villopoto, a former professional AMA Motocross and Supercross racer, was recently in South Africa and supporting the last round of the 2019 SA MX Nationals. Having taken a few laps around Terra Topia and hosting a Masterclass, we caught up with the sport’s superstar to get his thoughts on our local scene, life after professional racing, and more…
A big thank you goes out to Yamaha South Africa, Monster Energy, Out of Africa and Tintswalo for making this possible.
This is not your first time in South Africa. What are your thoughts on our country and what were you looking forward to experiencing during this trip?
It’s very different to the States obviously, in many many ways. Me and my wife came over on the 13th (October) and we experienced quite a lot in the time that we were there from doing the tourist stuff, to walking through a township, just seeing stuff that’s way different from the States. It’s been interesting, and fun, and very cool. We’ve enjoyed it.
What does it mean to you to be out here witnessing the final round of our MX Nationals?
I think its cool to see, I’ve been to Europe and every race in the States. I’ve seen the lap times around 2:13-ish, and a track like Southwick we have a 1:50. This may be a bit more of a confined area but as for the lap times you wouldn’t not find us racing here, if this was a venue in the States that could house a MX National. We’re just a lot bigger in a lot of ways.
Looking back on your career, what do you feel were some of the defining moments that lead to your success?
The biggest thing was surrounding myself with good people, from the team to trainers, to my wife putting in a lot of work. Just having a good team all the way around makes a big deal, and ultimately a lot of hard work.
What do you feel was your biggest advantage over your competitors when you were winning races week in and week out?
I knew I was trained and I knew I had a good team behind me. Not letting the little things effect me, like if my bike wasn’t setup perfect or whatever, it didn’t matter. That doesn’t mean I won every time but I wasn’t going to say I dint win because of the bike. Ultimately you can win on anything, to a certain extent that is.
Life after racing, was it what you expected it to be, or more, or less?
Living a new lifestyle and not being gone 40 weeks a year, travelling and racing. It’s been good and now we have two boys, twins, it’s been a big change but also it’s pretty rad.
How would you best sum up the daily life of Ryan Villopoto in the present moment?
At the moment it’s kinda boring I guess, to a certain extent. I go to Pro Circuit a lot, I have a work bay there, do some of my stuff and hang out with the team. I ride a little bit and obviously the boys take up a lot of time.
If not Motocross, what?
If it wasn’t for Motocross I would probably, I don’t know if I would have made it anywhere, but would have played soccer.
Explain the feeling and what goes through your mind when the helmet is on and you’re on the bike?
It’s all business. I treated it as a job. Yeah, I grew up and the love for it when I was racing went away, like now it’s fun and all this stuff is enjoyable. When I raced it was a job, I treated it like a job. That was my skill, just like running a piece of equipment or driving a truck, this is what I had. Most jobs aren’t very fun a lot of the time so I’m lucky when it comes to the sport as a whole and I’m able to retire off of it, with a lot of hard work.
What advice would you like to give the up and comers of our sport?
Lots of riding and practicing, and taking it serious. I was always taught, it’s supposed to be fun, but even as a kid this sport’s not cheap and it takes a lot of money to go race. So, when you’re on the track you work your ass off.
What advice would you give the top guys that are battling it out for championship titles?
When you get older you get more set in your ways – like David (Goosen) and Anthony (Raynard) are at the house and everybody is on a different level. This is a lot smaller level than what I raced on but to them it’s the same. So, I get the pressure and I understand all that. So when the gate drops, hopefully you don’t leave anything out on the table, you give it your all. If you win you win and if you don’t you don’t – when it’s your mistake it’s a problem, when you screw it up don’t blame it on the bike. That, I think the biggest problem with racers as a whole, a lot of it’s the bike’s problem and never their fault, and that’s when you get lost.
What do you feel is the most important thing to master when it comes to racing and winning?
Being able to race. There’s a lot of fast practicers but when they get behind the gate it’s a different story. Being able to race well and if you’re a fast practicer, you need to be able to race fast. This is where you make your money, not on a practice day.
Thank you to Guy (Henley) and Out of Africa Racing, the family has been super rad and we’ve had a lot of fun. Sound like we’re already planning next year, so you’ll probably see me out here again.
Photos by Eric Palmer.